Featured Constans braves winter seas and quells an uprising in Britain A.D. 342- 343

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Victor_Clark, Jun 30, 2020.

  1. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    to complement the recent post of jamesicus on Romans who campaigned in Britain, some info about what might otherwise seem to be a series of common and uninteresting coinage.


    There is a fairly common coin from the FEL TEMP series with a galley reverse. RIC VIII mentions that this type might allude to a visit that Constans made to Britain. RIC gives the Konrad Kraft article "Die Taten der Kaiser Constans und Constantius II" as a reference. Though RIC usually gives the date of issue as A.D. 348- 350, Kraft argues for an earlier issue probably around 344; which would be closer to the expedition.

    The reason that this issue seems to allude to a visit to Britain is because there are several ancient sources that reference this trip to Britain. The real significance though, according to the sources, was that it was made in the winter...a very dangerous time to make this crossing. Libanius has more about the weather which I did not include (I got tired of typing). This probably happened A.D. 342- 343.

    Firmicus Maternus, De errore profanum religionum On the Error of Pagan Religions Chapter 28:6

    “You (Constans) have overthrown your enemies, enlarged the Empire, and, to add greater luster to your exploits, altering and scorning the fixed order of the seasons you have done in the winter what was never done before or will be again: you have trodden upon the swollen and raging waters of the Ocean. The wave of a sea already become almost unknown to us has trembled beneath your oars, and the Briton has quailed before the unexpected visage of the Emperor.”

    Libanius Oration LIX: Panegyric of Constantius and Constans

    137 “It is not right to pass over in silence his voyage to the island of Britain, because many are ignorant about the island.”

    141 “If therefore after the island had rebelled, its inhabitants were holding an uprising, and the empire was being plundered, the news had arrived, and he had been seized with rage on hearing it and had thrown the die for the voyage, to report his act of daring would not have been to the credit of his resolve, but the crisis deriving from the rebels would have taken away the greater part of the glory.”

    Translation from From Constantine to Julian: Pagan and Byzantine Views A Source History.

    Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae Book XX.1

    “But in Britain in the tenth consulship of Constantius and the third of Julian raids of the savage tribes of the Scots and the Picts, who had broken the peace that had been agreed upon, were laying waste the regions near the frontiers, so that fear seized the provincials, wearied as they were by a mass of past calamities. And Julian, who was passing the winter in Paris and was distracted amid many cares, was afraid to go to the aid of those across the sea, as Constans once did (as I have told).”


    The trip to Britain is even commemorated on a medallion (RIC VIII Rome 338), known from a single example with a reverse of BONONIA OCEANEN. The reverse legend is what the Romans called the city Boulogne-sur-Mer, often just called Boulogne; which was the place the expedition to Britain was launched from. There is even a law in the Theodosian Code issed by Constans from the city in January 343; which gives weight to A.D. 342- 343 for the date of the expedition, since there would be no other reason for Constans to be in Bononia Oceanen.



    for corroboration of the A.D. 342- 343 date, see A Dictionary of Roman Coins

    "Light is thrown on the date of this expedition from the subscription of the Lex V of the Codex Theodosius (lib xi lit 16), viz. "data viii Kal Febr Bononiae, Placido et Romulo Coss." These men having entered their consulship AD 343. [Most of the above remarks, cited by Eckhel, are in Ducange, Dissrt. de Num. inf. aevi sect 28]"

    https://www.forumancientcoins.com/numiswiki/view.asp?key=BONONIA OCEANEN
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  3. Magnus Maximus

    Magnus Maximus Dulce et Decorum est....

    Fascinating post. I wasn't aware of a revolt in Britain taking place that early, so thats interesting. I find it crazy that within a 120 year period of time(286-406) there were at least six revolts against central Imperial authority.
  4. jamesicus

    jamesicus Supporter! Supporter

    Excellent post, Victor, and very well written.
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  5. svessien

    svessien Senior Member Supporter

    Great post. I just liked this coin a little bit more.

    IMG_0358 2.JPG
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  6. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    It's a fun series to collect and lots of little details to look for. Sometimes you can find examples with figureheads on the galley...I sold this example with a wolf or draco on the prow.

  7. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

    I've always wondered what the story was behind this reverse type. Thank you for illuminating this for us, Victor. At some point I will need to change the date of this coin:
    (Bronze) AE2
    Constantinople mint, A.D. 348-350
    Rev: FEL TEMP REPARTIO - Emperor, standing on galley, facing left, holding Victory on globe in right hand and labarum in left; Victory at helm.
    CONSIA✳ in exergue; S in field
    RIC 83
    24mm, 5.2g.

    Now, if someone would explain what the story was behind the barbarian/hut coins, I could sleep at night.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2020
  8. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    Sleep well then, for Konrad Kraft in his article I cited above, also argued that the Hut FTR coins were issued to commemorate the A.D. 342 resettlement of the Frankish people within the Roman Empire, on the left bank of the Rhine River, mainly in Toxandria.
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  9. DCCR

    DCCR New Member

    There doesn't seem to have been. Libanius is quite clear that the situation in Britain was calm and settled:

    Oration LIX: Panegyric of Constantius and Constans

    Julius Firmicus Maternus and Libanius wrote their passages at the time and would have mentioned a military campaign in Britain if there had been one, but they don’t. If there was a campaign, it wasn’t worthy of even writing about. Instead, they both focus on the fact that he sailed to Britain in the middle of winter. The only reference to a campaign against the Picts and Scots comes from Ammianus Marcellinus, writing 47 years after the event.

    The texts and the medallion celebrate Constans defeating the ocean. Crossing the channel to Britain during the winter was a dangerous thing to do at the time.

    See https://collectingancientcoins.co.uk/roman-coins-about-britain-constans/
  10. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    Libanius did say the island had rebelled; though according to him, the rebels had simmered down shortly before Constans set sail. Of course, Libanius is writing in typical panegyric fashion. What is just as liable to have happened is that the rebellion melted away as soon as Constans and his army landed (they were probably quite surprised Romans had crossed in winter), so rather than try and write about a battle that never happened (no fuel for a panegyric), Libanius concentrated on the crossing of the sea in winter; which was no small feat. So all the sources agree that there was trouble in Britain and Constans put together an expedition and braved the winter seas to come to the aid of Britain.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2020
  11. DCCR

    DCCR New Member

    > Libanius did say the island had rebelled

    The passage from Libanius starts by saying many "become dizzy at the name [of Britain]" and that Constans' visit was nothing more than a publicity stunt to visit what was a remote and mythical place at a difficult time of year. He says that *if* his visit had been in response to an uprising then that would have "taken away the greater part of the glory". He specifically says that they hadn't rebelled - "in fact affairs in Britain were settled", "There was no cause of anxiety compelling him to make the voyage", "there was no necessity present". He also said he went with 100 men, which even for a panegyric is a bit low to suppress an uprising.

    If there had been a military victory, especially one that was suppressed by him just turning up, Libanius would have been compelled to mention that. It's implausible that Libanius would suppress that in a panegyric.

    Maternus mentions that Contans conquered his enemies, but no particular enemies are mentioned or any particular time frame. The line "the Briton trembled before the face of an emperor he did not expect" might just refer to an unexpected visit from the boss.

    Marcellinus just says Constans once crossed the sea. Whether he meant Constans had gone to the aid of those across the sea is debatable.
  12. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    Panegyrics, by their nature, should be read skeptically and taken with a grain of salt. In this same panegyric, Libanius not only says that Constans allows his guards to fall asleep on duty, but that Constans himself then takes up the duty and stands watch.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2020
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  13. DCCR

    DCCR New Member

    I agree that they should be taken with a grain of salt, but even doing that I still can't get from his emphatic "there was no uprising" to "there was an uprising". He clearly states there was no uprising, is clear by omission that there was no uprising, the other source from the time doesn't mention an uprising, and the only one that does mention an uprising, mentions it in the context of someone else.

    If there was an uprising, and it was quashed by any means (either through military action or just by Constans appearing at the scene) it would have been mentioned and exaggerated by the writers of the time. If he had failed to quash it, then we'd expect to see later writers mention that, and we would probably have more obvious evidence of Britain falling out of Roman control at the time.

    My understanding, and someone will correct me if I'm wrong, is that there is nothing in the archaeological record for a rebellion at this time, and the only suggestion there was comes from the three writers we have mentioned.

    However, the reasons for him crossing are irrelevant in the context of your original post, and I don't want to distract from that. There appears to be no doubt that he travelled in the winter, and that the medallion at least commemorates that. The coins seem to depend on the earlier dating suggested by Kraft. Do you know what his reasoning was for that date, or indeed, what RIC's reasoning for the later date was? I have Kraft's paper but my German just isn't up to translating it.
  14. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Does this proposed date change apply to this type only or all the FEL TEMP REPARATIO original series?
    The only thing uninteresting about the FTR coins is the undeniable fact that they are common. With what must be about 5000 variations using that legend from 15 mints and five rulers, there is too much material for one person to comprehend fully in one lifetime. How this is called uninteresting can only be traced to the possibility of finding 90% of the coins in junkboxes.
    Regarding the accuracy of the writings of historians with an ax to grind, politicians and authors willing to create facts as desired, it is hard to see how anything can be known. The main skill of a student of mankind is lie sifting.

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    Constantius II
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    Constantius Gallus

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  15. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

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    Attached Files:

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  16. Victor_Clark

    Victor_Clark standing on the shoulders of giants Dealer

    Doug I will try to remember to check, but my German is very poor, having only studied one year in grad school. On a related note, I did talk my wife into watching the tv show Dark (available on Netflix) in original German with English subtitles added, so I am trying to practice a little, but at three seasons it will not be anywhere near enough!

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  17. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Active Member

    Thanks for this, Victor. And for your no less enlightening explication of the naval motif, that started your post. It's That Cool when a design, even this late, when the legends run so heavily to mindless propoganda, can refer to something as specific as this.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2020
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